The Lowdown on Typefaces: Getting to Know Font Features

Elementary to graphic design is the understanding of fonts and their characteristics. Each typeface is individual and is defined by its attributes.

Serif and Sans Serif Fonts

Most typefaces are either Serif or Sans Serif. A Serif font has a finishing stroke at the end of most primary strokes of the letters form. Minion is an example of a Serif font. Sans (without) Serif fonts have no finishing stroke. Stone Sans is one font that is a sans Serif typeface.

serif vs sans serif

What is a Font Baseline?

The baseline of a font is the imaginary line that each letter of a typeface rests. Even nontraditional fonts such as grunge or garage, which move off the traditional line, still have a baseline specific for that font.

What is an X-Height of a Font?

The height of a lowercase letter is defined as the x-height. The x-height is the measured height of the lower letter “x”, hence the name. Characters such as “e”, “h”, and “n” round just above the x-height, forming what is called shoulder height.

What are Font Ascenders and Descenders?

The parts of the letters that extend above the x-height, such as they do on “d”, “h”, and “k,” are called ascenders. The parts of letters that project below the baseline, such as they do on “g,” “j,” and “y,” are called descenders. In many fonts the ascender of a lower case letter is taller than the same letter in capital form. When this occurs it is said that the lower case exceeds the cap height.

What is the Body Clearance Line in Typeface?

Type is set on a line with spacing equal to its point size. Above the ascender, or cap height (depending on which is greater), is a space designed to allow for clearance between characters and lines to type. This space is called the body clearance line.

How to Measure Font Size
A font’s size is determined by measuring from its descender to the body clearance line. This line varies for each typeface and makes accurately measuring type size rather difficult.

What is Font Character Width?

Character width deals with how wide a letter is. Along with the character itself, character width must include the space needed for proper fit with the next letter in the line. In other words, each character has a left side margin, a character origin point, and a next character origin point.

The character’s bounding box is the surrounding space taken up by the character. The bounding box is measured from the character’s leftmost margin to its rightmost margin. The bounding box, the character origin, and the next character origin are added together to yield the character width.

Essential Font Knowledge for Good Graphic Design

There are many different types of typefaces today used for various designs, special character sets, and fonts in different languages. But, they all follow the basic structure of fonts in general. A good graphic designer should be aware of these similarities.


McAllister, Robert. The Complete Series for Desktop Publishing. Delmar Publishers. ISBN: 0827379269
Westwood College. Introduction to Graphic Design. Thomson Custom Publishing. ISBN: 0759336172

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